With the 2017 NFL regular season now over and the playoffs about to begin it’s time to take a quick look ahead at several key decisions the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to make in the coming months. I’ll obviously break down each of these decisions more in depth after the playoffs are over, but in the meantime, here is an overview of what lies ahead for the Steelers during the quickly approaching offseason.
Futures – Immediately after the Steelers 2017 season ends they will sign several players to Reserve/Futures contracts. Generally, several of these players wind up being ones who ended the season on the team’s practice squad plus a few more who didn’t. Keep in mind that two players the Steelers signed to Reserve/Futures last year, cornerback Mike Hilton and offensive lineman Matt Feiler, both wound up being excellent finds. In short, don’t take this part of the offseason process lightly.
Coaching staff decisions – The Steelers will very likely have to hire at least one new coach during the offseason as wide receivers coach Richard Mann indicated several months ago that he plans on retiring after the 2017 season. Can they get him to change his mind? The Steelers might also have to find a new offensive line coach during the offseason should Mike Munchak wind up landing a head coaching job with another team. Additionally, the Steelers will need to decide whether or not to renew the contract of offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the offseason and they might be the market for a new special teams coordinator as well as Danny Smith hasn’t had much success in that role during his time in Pittsburgh. Other minor moves might also ultimately be made when it comes to a position coach or two.
Get decision on Big Ben’s future – Regardless of what ultimately happens in the playoffs this year, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t likely to commit to playing in 2018 for several more weeks. While odds are probably good right now that he’ll return for a 15th season, it’s not guaranteed to happen. The Steelers will obviously need Roethlisberger’s decision well before draft day.
Bell franchise tag – The first day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players is February 20th and the deadline for those decisions is March 6th. The Steelers only legitimate tag candidate during the offseason is running back Le’Veon Bell and it will cost them $14.54 million in 2018 should they decide to place it on him. Just like last offseason, giving Bell the franchise tag will make signing him to a long-term deal extremely difficult so the Steelers must be prepared for him to play under the tag amount in 2018 in addition to him possibly staying away from the team all offseason just as he did in 2017.
Tenders galore – Ahead of the start of the new league year in March the Steelers will issue their tenders to several restricted and exclusive rights free agents they want to retain. There are going to be quite a few of these with Hilton, Felier, center B.J. Finney and long snapper Kameron Canaday leading the list of exclusive rights free agents and fullback Roosevelt Nix, kicker Chris Boswell, punter Jordan Berry, wide receiver Eli Rogers and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo leading the list of restricted free agents the team will likely want to retain. A full recap of the Steelers 2018 free agents will be posted as soon as their 2017 season is over.
Cutting the cap fat – The Steelers are going to be crunched for salary cap space during the offseason and especially if they wind up giving Bell the franchise tag a second year in a row. In short, there’ sure to be a few veteran cap casualties ahead of the start of the 2018 league year in March and it’s not hard to pick out the potential candidates. Safety Mike Mitchell, who is set to earn $5 million in 2018, should find out his fate very quickly as should veteran cornerback William Gay, who is set to earn $1.75 million in 2018. A few other veteran backups such as tight end Vance McDonald ($3.7 million), safety J.J. Wilcox ($3.125 million), cornerback Coty Sensabaugh ($1.4 million) and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ($1.2 million) all need to be closely examined as well. Obviously, not all of the players listed will be purged prior to the middle of March but a few of them will have to be.
Contract restructures – Like it or not, the Steelers will likely have to restructure a contract or two prior to the start of the new league year in March. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt might be the primary candidate for an early offseason restructure as he’s do a $7.5 million roster bonus on the fifth-day of the new league year. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, defensive end Cameron Heyward, guard David DeCastro and even tackle Alejandro Villanueva are also all potential early offseason contract restructure candidates depending on how much additional salary cap space the Steelers think they need to create ahead of the start of the 2018 league year in March.
Fifth-year for Dupree? – While the deadline for doing so is still four months away, the Steelers will need to decide by early May whether or not to pick up the 2019 fifth-year option on outside linebacker Bud Dupree. While the amount of that 2019 option-year has yet to be determined, it’s likely going to be just short of $9.5 million.